It’s a show-changing character and a career-changing performance for Britton, making his first major TV role and earning his first career Emmy nomination. The actor talked with The Hollywood Reporter about his approach to the real-life killer, director David Fincher’s notoriously exacting standards and more. Here are a few excerpts:
Ed Kemper is a remarkably well documented figure. There’s a lot of stuff you can either read about him or watch of him. And since a lot of what was in the script was taken from actual video of Ed Kemper, is that a boon for you as an actor? Or does it run the risk of becoming too much of a reference point?
At a certain point you have to let it go. I think you set a base, you find different aspects of him. So you see the narcissist in him, so you see the pride in his work. That’s something I recognized from his interviews that’s he’s incredibly proud of his, at the very least, his knowledge on the subject. You then take that and you implement it into the scene and character work, but it may evolve into your version of pride, your version of arrogance, your version of narcissism. It’s more important that the aspects of who he is are in the scene, and not the actual impersonation. I’d find a couple vocal inflections that I found unique and interesting to him, his overall sort of energy and vibe. I felt like I wanted to capture that. But then after that it was, “Bring your inner serial killer out.” Sort of. I think Anthony Hopkins mentioned in Silence of the Lambs how instinctual of a process it was, developing him. And I felt the same. You just sort of trusted where the dark thoughts and elements took you.
So from a certain distance one can look and point out how your Ed Kemper is different from the real guy, and how Joe Penhall’s adaptation of Ed Kemper is different from the real guy?
Ed is a bit faster of a talker than the way I portrayed him. We just liked slowing him down. It just felt right. I liked the weight for him. He’s a little heavier than the real Kemper. There were more layers to him. I don’t know if there was a perversion because of his weight or if there was even a likeability from his weight, but I think it had a really interesting impact to what you see on the film.
There was more that I took than I left out, I think. There was his level of eye contact, his way of being ahead of you in the conversation, his way of saying something and making you think you thought it up. He’d phrase things in a certain way that make you think it was your idea. His point came from your end.
This seems like such a stupid thing for me to say, but I’m sort of going to float it out there. I talk to actors who play real people fairly frequently, and a thing you often hear is, “Oh I wanna honor the real person and the experience,” or, “Oh I wanna make sure I get it right so that I’ll honor life.” When you’re playing a guy who’s a serial killer and probably not all that honorable a person, does that thought go through your mind? That you’re trying to honor a real person? Still?
No, if I was trying to honor anybody it would be the victims, to give an accurate account of what they went through with this guy. I didn’t have any interest in meeting him. I didn’t want to go on a personal level. I just don’t want to meet someone who’s murdered a bunch of women. You know, I just would never want to meet someone like that. Perhaps he would enjoy if I came to meet him? Perhaps he would find that as a feather in a cap? And if that were the case, then I most certainly don’t want to meet him. Even in the auditions we discussed not focusing on doing an impression of him, not paying homage, because that’s not what this is about. I found a lot of letters written to him from, I guess you’d call them fans? All of his stuff, and all of this baffles me. It almost feels like a lot of folks are encouraging this kind of behavior.
Now this is a character who has a lot of bits of “business,” as it were. The shackles, the uniform, the mustache, those thick glasses. As you were getting into the external preparation of the character, was there something that allowed you to lock on and go, “Oh, OK this really helps me. I really have this guy, ’cause I have his mustache or his glasses,” or whatever.
Once they put me fully into the look, it was hard to look in the mirror. I didn’t realize how much I looked like him. I would get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and startle myself looking in the mirror. I just didn’t know who was in my bathroom with me for a moment there. If anything got me into character, it was the glasses to just put them a half-an-inch down the nose, there was a kind of stateliness. if you take your glasses and you just put them down a little bit and look up you almost feel sort of like a grandparent. And it gave this calm, sage, learned aspect to him that was really necessary. The more he was knowledgeable about himself and his crimes, the more you believe his side of the story. Yeah, I would just drop those glasses down a bit and I could feel myself slipping into the role whenever I did that.
To read the full interview with Cameron Britton:
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